Hidden cameras have become so powerful ‒ and so affordable ‒ over the last few years that at this point, you just have to assume you’re on a video feed somewhere whenever you walk into the public. But in the vast majority of those situations, we still have some type of say in the matter.Aircraft hidden cameras

If you walk into a retail store and are greeted by signs that read: “by entering, you acknowledge that you are being recorded,” for example, it is your right to walk out of that store and go shop somewhere else. Likewise, if your employer wants to install a hidden camera in your office, for the most part, he or she will be legally required to tell you about it ‒ thus giving you an opportunity to voice your objection or even look for work elsewhere.

But when that hidden camera has been installed in a public place that you can choose to be in, that’s one thing. When it’s been installed in a seat on an airplane that you have a) paid for, and b) are essentially trapped in for the duration of your flight, that’s another matter altogether. That latter situation is exactly what caused so much controversy with United Airlines recently when they installed camera lenses on the backs of plane seats as a part of their standard inflight entertainment systems. Passengers, naturally, had something to say about that.

United Airlines’ Inflight Cameras: Here’s What Happened

Recently, United Airlines overhauled its inflight entertainment system on certain planes ‒ meaning the screens built into every seat back that allows passengers to watch films and television shows during their flight. Almost immediately, this caused a great deal of controversy as people just assumed the cameras would be used to record them without their knowledge.

In a statement made to announce that the cameras were being permanently deactivated, United Airlines indicated that a) there was never a way for passengers to use those cameras, b) none of the cameras on any flights were ever activated, and c) there were no plans to ever use them in the future.

Of course, all of this demands a pretty fascinating question… why were they ever installed at all? If the cameras themselves were not used nor were they ever planned to be used, why would an airline invest such a huge amount of money into a piece of technology that they themselves admit was essentially pointless?

Representatives from United quickly explained that at some point in the future, they were thinking about offering some type of webcam service to passengers. But for the time being, they were just a standard feature included on ALL models of screens purchased by that particular manufacturer. That same screen is used in a variety of other contexts, like offices, and is regularly employed for video conferencing. Unfortunately, this explanation was “too little, too late” for most United travelers.

In addition to permanently disabling the cameras, the airline took the added step of covering them ‒ just to make it clear, in no uncertain terms, that nobody is being watched during a flight.

Interestingly, this is not the first time that an airline has run into this type of issue. In February of 2019, Singapore Airlines came under fire when a passenger noticed a peculiar sensor built into the inflight entertainment system that, upon further examination, turned out to be a hidden camera. That airline also fell back on the explanation of “the camera was never used, and it was just a feature offered by the original equipment manufacturer.”

Regardless, it’s safe to say that this probably will not be the last time this type of situation arises with a hidden camera on an airline carrying passengers all over the world. Likewise, United will probably pay closer attention to some of those “default features” provided by original equipment manufacturers before making purchasing decisions for the foreseeable future.